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Tropic of Orange

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  1,776 ratings  ·  125 reviews
This fiercely satirical, semifantastical novel ... features an Asian-American television news executive, Emi, and a Latino newspaper reporter, Gabriel, who are so focused on chasing stories they almost don't notice that the world is falling apart all around them. Karen Tei Yamashita's staccato prose works well to evoke the frenetic breeziness and monumental self-absorption ...more
Paperback, 268 pages
Published September 1st 1997 by Coffee House Press
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Average rating 3.55  · 
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 ·  1,776 ratings  ·  125 reviews

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Tori (InToriLex)
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Find this and other Reviews at In Tori Lex

This book was a wonderful rumination of what unites and divides us. The characters explore class, race, real or imagined borders and the violent realities of poverty. Emi and Gabriel are a couple who chase after stories, and Buzzworm is a man who has the skills and hope to assist a homeless community. All of the characters serve a purpose and their existence and dialogue works on multiple levels. After a slow start I became completely engaged in how the
Jan 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
Take some poisoned oranges, a migrating Tropic of Cancer, busy news reporters and executives, a radio-addicted savior of the homeless, apocalyptic freeway scenes, a traffic symphony conductor, illegal baby organs, a possibly-immortal street performer/laborer/avatar of Latin America, toss them in a stew, add some magical realism, and let it all simmer under the hot L.A. sun, and what do you get? Not sure. It's a bit of a mess. The ingredients didn't even mix well. But hey, not all recipes turn ...more
Dec 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Yamashita's Tropic of Orange deserves a place among the best hemispheric American literature, alongside Garcia Marquez, Carpentier, and Paz. Tropic of Orange revises 500 years of the Americas' history through the voices, sounds, and vision of otherwise marginal characters in the crux of Los Angeles: Chicano reporter Gabriel, Japanese-American producer Emi, social worker Buzzworm, doctor-cum-homeless conductor Manzanar, Mexican housekeeper Rafaela and her Korean husband Bobby, their son Sol, and ...more
Carrie (brightbeautifulthings)
I added this book to my shelf when I was in graduate school, since it was exactly the sort of thing I was studying there and came highly recommended by trusted sources. What irony that I had to leave school in order to have time to read it.

The story alternates among seven characters of various races and backgrounds living in an L.A. that’s starting to unravel. A series of catastrophic car accidents leaves the highways impassable except on foot, toxic oranges are banned from the city, and rumors
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Ellen by: Dr. Ruiz-Velasco
I have to be honest. I was frustrated while I was reading this book because I really had no idea what was going on. I knew somehow it all made sense, and I constantly told myself that, but up until the ending of the book, I asked myself: "What the heck did I just read?" Not until after my California Fiction class discussed this book did it really start to make sense. Not perfect sense, but I realized how it made sense. From the beginning of this novel, an insignificant little orange becomes the ...more
Aug 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Like other readers who have posted their thoughts, I wanted to like this book and it disappointed me. To be honest, it's fairly awful. The plot is convoluted and slow-moving (kind of like the 405 on a Friday afternoon, but in this case the imitative fallacy is not working in Yamashita's favor). The structure of the book tries to liven things up, but instead it backfires and prevents us from getting truly involved in any of the 7 narratives. I could give a laundry list of problems here, but the ...more
4.5 stars rounded up. Though this book didn't receive any prestigious literary awards like the other books I rated 5 stars this month, it is nonetheless a wondrous, not entirely outdated, witty, piercing look at life in multicultural Southern California.
I guess my next step will be to read David Foster Wallace sometime this year.
Apr 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is not a good book. Published in 1997, it reads today like a parody of an overly-academic attempt at fiction that just can't resist wearing its recently acquired postmodern learning on its sleeve. It's overflowing with all-too-obvious and on-the-nose references to standard hits of late-nineties Los Angeles-related pomo obsession (e.g., "City of Quartz," "Ecology of Fear," "Blade Runner," film noir, cyberpunk, "Neuromancer," Kuhnian "paradigm shifts," NAFTA, etc.), and at times, it feels as ...more
Samantha Allen
Dec 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: for-class
It's a rare thing for me to come across a book that I so vewhemently dislike. Yamashita takes everything -- every metaphor, every character quirk, every list -- about four or five paces too far. I just wanted to scream "okay, I get it!" through so much of this novel. The book switches between narrators, some of whom are first person and some of whom are limited third. The chapters about Bobby, a Chinese Signaporean immigrant living in a Latino world, were especially awful because of the ...more
Mathieu Ravier
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Like a hard boiled LA noir re-imagined as a beat poem, this reads like Cien Años de Soledad, but written by Neal Stephenson. No wait, that’s not it at all. It’s a magic realist dystopia except that it’s set in the present (written around the time of the LA riots). It’s a political fable about race, class and the end of the world. Maybe. It’s a story about the border between rich and poor, North and South, white and everyone else, and what happens when that border begins to shift, and maybe even ...more
Amelia Zhou
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
what just happened
Kim Lockhart
Oct 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
The story is a late 90s indictment of socio-economic and political systems which victimize the poor/powerless. Many of the points are just as applicable today. The story is a magical realism ride, with characters who are largely two-dimensional, but as developed as they need to be in order to drive the main thematic elements of the satire.
Dec 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: for-class
OK. So. Look.

This is one of those books that I should, according to all my usual thyme and reason, enjoy. It possesses just enough magical realism to meet my needs (because I read primarily for escapism), engaging character voices, and initially presents itself as if I'm going to need to pick out the meaning and undercurrents and themes -- the whats, whys, and wherefores of what's going on -- as if it's *meaty*. I enjoy disjointed story lines (because jigsaw puzzles are my friends) and
Jake Miller
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This novel follows 7 characters in LA and Mexico in the 90’s surrounding some surreal events (like cocaine oranges lol) and how the different events affect marginalized groups. Yamashita has a beautiful and poetic writing style, and I thought she addressed a lot of social issues in a clever and intriguing way. Unfortunately, the reasoning behind some of the magical elements went over my head (specifically, the wrestling match) but not enough to impair my enjoyment of the novel. The characters ...more
Rosalie Ray
Apr 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing. I haven't liked magical realism in the past, but it was the perfect medium for all that she wanted to convey (plus the organizing grid at the front of the book soothed the engineering/objective/positivist side of me). There are sentences and whole paragraphs that I want to pull out and turn into visual art, if that was something I could do, like the listing of neighborhoods by geography (the hills Beverly and Rolling, the woods Holly Ingle Brent and West, etc.) and the ...more
Jan 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Individual stories and voices terrific but found it difficult to follow. Wanted more Buzzworm and Manzanar.
May 21, 2011 rated it did not like it
Had to read this book for an English class. It became too convoluted for my taste.
2.5 stars

I really really wanted to like this more than I did. I enjoyed a large majority of the actual writing and most of the characters, but in my opinion, it tried to do too much.

This is a story where I found myself constantly getting lost and having to backtrack to understand the progression of the plot (if you can even call it that). The characters are all interconnected in one way or another, but it felt too convoluted. There were too many people and relationships to keep track of for
Tatiana Faria
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is wonderfully complex. I've been thinking about how to work on it with high school students for the last year; it offers so much and I just want to do it justice! The seven narratives/protagonists allow for a range of representation rare for any book, but especially books that focus on characters that are not white. It is not a book that allows for any generalizations based on race, ethnicity, or gender, because each character occupies a unique identity and space.

This book would be
She's going for the David Foster Wallace kind of story here, complete with the characters of Mr. Name Unlikely (in this case, "Manzanar Murakami"), dizzy allusions to the cultural landscape of the '90s (white Broncos and all), a look at our mediated landscape, and general ridiculous in the geopolitics of a near-future North America.

Is it as good? No.

Is it bad? Not really, but I just wasn't as drawn in. The thing is, it's just aged so badly, what with the Baudrillard and Mike Davis touchstones
George Duran
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The orange was my favorite character.
Amanda Sie
Jul 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
SuperNAFTA is my new favorite marvel villain
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
Oranges, magical realism, and the lines that divide us.

"What are these goddamn lines anyway? What do they connect? What do they divide? What's he holding on to? What's he holding on to?"
Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
I think my brain is rotting from not being in school for years because I have no damn idea what to say about Tropic of Orange.

Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita was assigned reading in my Ethnic America literature course senior year, which had to be dropped from the syllabus due to some cancelled classes. It then languished for three years in my Ye Olde Stack Of Books What Were Dropped From Syllabi Due To Cancelled Classes But Which I Am Totally Going to Read One Of These Days.

Tropic of
Veronica Barnes
Mar 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
There was something about this book that annoyed me and it took me almost to the end to figure out what it was. Because I did like the book. It's preachy but not "preachy" preachy. It's "cool" preachy. Which I believe today at this moment is needed. And Yamashita had some very valuable things to say and a unique way (the structure of the book was pretty sweet) of demanding that you listen to her. But it was just too much, too preachy. And the ending sucked. Seriously, it just fell totally flat ...more
May 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book is one of my all time favorite books. I read it for my Asian American fiction class, and it changed my life. Yamashita's ability to write distinct, dynamic characters set in surreal universes is awe-inspiring -- I think she's amazing. I'm surprised that this book doesn't have higher ratings, but also am not surprised because I think it takes a lot to understand the many intricacies and nuances that exist in this universe.

This book is for people of color, it's for border crossers, it's
Dec 11, 2011 rated it did not like it
This book was well-written and I give Yamashita credit for her (somewhat) subtle critiques on stereotypes, racism, and diversity. The placing of magical elements and happenings was also done well.

But when it came to her overall criticism of globalization, the concept of borders, and the way maps are too general to represent any real areas, it was so overbearing I had to stop a few times.

Her character ArcAngel went from being a stoic and mysterious character to an immature and underdeveloped
Nov 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, favorites
One of those books that actually chews all it bit off. Fantastic and weird.
Feb 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this in my post-modernism class in college, and it was great. I like a lot of books about Los Angeles (with the exception of anything by Bret Easton Ellis), so this was right up my alley.
Jul 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: literature
I did not like the magical realism in this novel at all.
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Born January 8, 1951 in Oakland, California, Karen Tei Yamashita is a Japanese American writer and Associate Professor of Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, where she teaches creative writing and Asian American literature. Her works, several of which contain elements of magic realism, include novels I Hotel (2010), Circle K Cycles (2001), Tropic of Orange (1997), Brazil-Maru ...more
“Then you are a poet?' she asked, fingering the flyer in her pocket.
'No not at all,' he waved his hand. 'I am merely a character in a poem.”
“No single imagination is wild or crass or cheesy enough to compete with the collective mindlessness that propels our fascination forward.” 2 likes
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